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July 21, 2011

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Chefs innovate with summer fruits

GULAO meat, also known as Cantonese sweet-and-sour fried pork, is a favorite among Westerners. Fresh, tangy pineapple adds a nice sweet-and-sour taste that's pleasant in the hot season.

This is only one of many Chinese dishes with fruit ingredients and cooking fruit was recorded in the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). The classic "Huang Di Nei Jing" ("Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor") recorded that incorporating fruits into the daily diet was important in nutrition.

Fruit dishes are found throughout China, from candied apple fritters in the north to beef with orange people in central China and fried bananas in the south.

Chinese chefs today are innovating with fruits, pairing and cooking in interesting ways to cater for contemporary dining.

Two Chinese chefs - John Ruan from Four Points by Sheraton Shanghai, Pudong and Morris Liu from Grand Mercure Hongqiao Shanghai - have launched their newly created fruit main courses.

Both chefs are from Shanghai, which is known for blending Eastern and Western cultures, and their cooking style seems quite international. On one hand, they focus on precise cutting of ingredients and the depth and layering of flavor for which Chinese cuisine is known. On the other hand, they favor simple and elegant Western presentation. They also incorporate elements of Thai and Malay cooking, using regional herbs, spices and sauces.

Sauteed Cod Fish and Dragon Fruit (188 yuan/US$29), topped with diced kiwi and Hami melon (musk melon from northwestern China) is one of chef Ruan's new creations.

"When designing the recipe, I found the flavor of cod fish is too light and simple to stimulate the diner's appetite. Fruit not only gives the dish a more refreshing flavor but also helps maintaining the original flavor of the fish," Ruan says.

The dish has rich texture and flavor from the sweet crispy Hami melon, the sour juicy kiwi and the tender fish that has a certain sweetness flavor.

He also created Baked Chicken Fillet with Hami Melon and says the dish is specially designed for Westerners who like sweet-and-sour dishes.

Like gulao pork, the chicken dish is a balance between sweet and sour but has an extra spicy note coming from the chef's secret weapon known as jiezhi, a sauce of tomato, spicy soy sauce and sugar.

Ruan offers a few tips for making fruit dishes at home. "The selection of fruit is not random. Flavor, texture, season and health benefits should all be considered. For example, different cooking methods are used for fruit with different textures."

He recommends frying comparatively firm fruit such as apple and pineapple and steaming softer fruit such as mango and papaya.

Chef Liu from Grand Mercure has created Green Papaya Salad with Soya Marinated Chicken (88 yuan) and Sauteed Shrimp with Summer Spicy Mango Salsa (158 yuan).

"As a chef, knowing how to make use of fresh ingredient is important. Whether it's green papaya or mango, fruit bathed in tropical sunshine presents the best flavor and aroma this season," he emphasizes.

The papaya salad has rich flavor that's sour and salty. The chicken is marinated in fish sauce to bring out the savory depth of the chicken. A topping of crushed peanuts and parsley gives the dish an herbal aroma and nutty note.

Liu's shrimp with mango salsa has a sweet, fruity aroma. Smooth mango puree and firm shrimp meat produce a dish with layers and a balanced taste that is sweet, salty and spicy.

"These two dishes were inspired by my vacation in Thailand," he says. "I was amazed that local chefs can perfectly combine tropical fruit and spices. Salty and spicy flavor goes well with the sweet taste and aroma of fruit."


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